A dying tradition of remembering the dead
CALASIAO, Pangasinan—Dressed in burial clothes and veils and holding lighted candles, a group of residents in central Pangasinan, called “cantores,” would gather on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day and go from house to house, singing the song “Pantawtawag” (Calling).
After the last stanza is sung, the singers are ushered into the house and offered the usual fare, such as “inlubi” (black rice cakes), fried rice flakes with caramel and other native rice cakes.
Pangasinan historian Restituto Basa says some house owners give money to the cantores, but this does not stop the singers from snatching eggs from a backyard nest or even running away with a chicken—all done in the spirit of fun.
Catholic priest Immanuel Escano, an advocate of the revival of Pangasinan arts and culture, says the practice is called “panagkamarerwa,” which is taken from the Pangasinan word “kamarerwa” or soul.
Escano, 64, says that in panagkamarerwa, the cantores, who assume the roles of the souls of the dead, take advantage of the situation and steal small items from house owners. When the owners find out about the missing items the following day, they let the incident pass, saying what they lost were “akamarerwa” or taken by roaming souls.
“It is similar to the Western countries’ trick-or-treat practice of children going around houses during Halloween, asking for treats or they will create tricks to annoy the house owners,” Escano says.
But this tradition has been dying and slowly being forgotten as Pangasinenses, like most Filipinos, would rather adopt Western practices to remember their dead, he says.
The practice used to be common in the Pangasinan-speaking towns of Calasiao, Malasiqui, Bayambang, Sta. Barbara, Mapandan, Basista, Manaoag, San Fabian, San Jacinto, Binmaley, Lingayen, Bugallon, Urbiztondo, Aguilar, Mangatarem and Labrador, and the cities of Dagupan and San Carlos.
Escano said the song “Pantawtawag” is hardly known to younger Pangasinenses.
Dr. Shirley Milanes, in her compilation of Pangasinan folk songs, says the singing reminds families of their departed relatives.
“Pantawtawag refers to the call of the poor souls visiting the living, asking for lighting of candles so they may rest in peace. The dead tell the living that they failed to return their love because of their sudden demise, thus they are suffering,” Milanes says.
She says there are several types of pantawtawag, the most common of which is known as “lapag” (general) which contains the lamentations or the pleadings of all the souls in purgatory.
The first stanza of an older version goes: “Ay denglen you pa Kristiano/ So pantawag mid sikayo/ Ta kamarerwa ed purgatory/ Ya ondalaw natan ed sikayo/ Say irap yo pay talinengen yo/ Kamarerwa ed purgatory (Oh, Christians please listen/ To our pleading/ The souls in purgatory/ Coming to visit you/ Look upon the hardships/ That we suffer in purgatory).”
A later version, supplied by Escano, goes: “O nanan makan abong/ Silew pay itandag yo/ Ta manbirbir ki pa/ No wala ray kabat yo/ No anggapo man bilang/ Sikami itepel yo/ Ta kaugalian min gendat/ So ondalaw ed sikayo (Oh, aunt who owns the house/ Please give us light/ So you can see/ If you know some of us/ If you don’t know anyone/ Please forgive us/ Because it is our habit/ To visit you).”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.